There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the texting habits of parents. The tenor of the conversations is mostly negative, and a lot of words have been spent excoriating parents for using their phones when they should be watching their kids.
I think we’re all guilty of it, to some extent. And sure, sometimes texting while parenting is dangerous and irresponsible, and sometimes it’s neglectful, and sometimes it’s rude.
But sometimes it’s also necessary. And it’s not always wrong.
I’ve had an iPhone since before I’ve had a son, and I love it almost as much. I use it a lot – too much, probably (too much, definitely, if you ask Mom and Buried) – and I have no problem conceding that when it’s on my person it’s difficult for me not to frequently engage with it.
I also spend a lot of time with my son, especially since I became a stay at home dad. We are together almost all the time, and when we leave the house I am as sure to bring my phone as Detective Munch is to bring his lovey. And yes, I have been guilty of looking at my phone when I am in the company of my kid, and I understand where the negativity is coming from. But in my defense…
I’m on record as the ungrateful dad that is occasionally frustrated by the stay-at-home parenting experience, and as the jerk of a father who told the world his son is boring. I stand by both posts. I’m sorry, but the level of discourse in the toddler world can leave something to be desired, and as a stay-at-home dad, it can get rather old when all your conversations revolve around time-outs and “Yo Gabba Gabba” and naptime.
This blog is nothing if not honest, and while I understand the concern behind the “texting while parenting” issue, aka “the latest thing it’s okay to judge Other Parents for,” I think, as with most things, generalization is the enemy.
Using your phone and watching your kid are not mutually exclusive activities.
A lot is being made of parents using their phones at the playground, but the playground is one of the few places you can let your kid roam free without too much concern. The ones I visit with my son have toddler-specific sections, segregated from the rest of the park to protect the stupid-but-can’t-help-it younger kids from being trampled by the stupid-and-should-know-better older ones, and the ground is padded with rubber material to prevent painful falls. My son is pretty safe when we’re there, and yes, I’m watching him as he putzes around.
Obviously, should my kid venture onto one of the raised platforms or want to go on the swings, I’m all over it; I always make sure we go together so I can have his back. But if he sits down in the sandbox or is drawing with sidewalk chalk, you’re goddamn right I’m gonna check my phone. Maybe a job-related email came through. Maybe Mom and Buried texted me about picking up something for dinner. Or, most important of all, maybe my trade offer was accepted in fantasy! But the “what” doesn’t really matter.
Any email/text/phone call/check-in/Angry Birds level would seem trivial should your kid get hurt while you were reacting to it, and kids are going to find a way to get hurt whether you’re watching them like a hawk or not; it’s half the point of being a kid and the challenge of being a parent. The fact is, in those rare moments when my toddler is happy playing independently or with other kids without needing me standing behind him to break his fall, I’m happy to let him. And I’m going to take that opportunity to try and squeeze in a little bit of adult time, if possible.
Besides, when am I supposed to check my email? If I even so much as glance at the computer at home, or my kid spots my phone, it’s a nonstop marathon of grabby hands and whiny demands. He needs to see Superman clips, he wants to play with the E-I-E-I-O app, he needs to hear “Call Me Maybe” for the 800th time, he wants to swat at the keyboard because… well, really just because he wants to swat at the keyboard!
If you whip out some flashy piece of technology in front of a two-year-old, he’s gonna want to play with it. The playground or the park or other safe, enclosed areas where he can safely and contentedly occupy himself are the only places that offer the chance for unencumbered multi-tasking. Regardless, it’s not the phones that are the problem.
The parent who texts while their child walks into traffic would surely find another way to neglect his kid should his phone’s battery die. And I promise you that plenty of kids who live in Amish communities or who grew up in the 1700s got kicked by mules or stepped on nails, both while their parents were paying attention to them and while they weren’t. I doubt people responded by writing articles about the dangers of butter churning.
Parenting is hard. It’s tiring. Sometimes you need a break. Sure, there are good times to take a break (during his nap) and bad times to take a break (ANY OTHER TIME!), but distracted parents weren’t invented by Apple.